Love and judgment–how are they both intertwined? In this evocative passage, Jesus presses us to realize the purifying power of Divine love which helps us see the dangers, the sharks that lurk within us. Click here to read the passage (Luke 12:49-56)

A Higher Perspective

One of the things I learned while living in southern California is the way lifeguards have added another layer of protection for beachgoers.

Around 2015 the lifeguards began flying drones over a certain area of the beach and ocean where people are wadding in, surfing, and having a great time. You may have seen pictures of this, where there will be people in the water having a great time, and then within 40 feet of them are one or more sharks. Yeah, not a pleasant thing to think about. The lifeguards can see the hungry sharks!

The beachgoer doesn’t know it; they can’t see the shark from their vantage point. Lucky for them, the lifeguards in the tower are flying the drone that is relaying video to them on their screen. The lifeguard has a better vantage point. They can see the hungry sharks.  The lifeguards in the station will tell the lifeguard on duty at that section of the beach and a warning goes out.

How many lives have been saved by this?

Now, just imagine if lifeguards flew a drone, saw the sharks, and told no one. No warning whatsoever. Instead, what if they said, “You know, California has 840 miles of coastline. These people could go somewhere else. If you come here, this is what you sign up for.”

There is no way we want to live in a world like that, is there? We would say that if a lifeguard had that attitude, they would not be worthy of the cute red shorts they wear.

We applaud the people who can see the danger signs before anyone else and choose to warn us.

What Jesus has been doing since his earliest days of ministry is that he has been sounding the alarm. Simply put, Jesus sees the hungry sharks.

A Higher Temperature

When one reads this passage it does seem like Jesus is dialing up the decibel level a bit, but this passage does not contradict what Jesus has said elsewhere. Jesus consistently sounds the alarm–there are not just sharks on the outside, there are also sharks within us

Puritan revivalists and the street corner evangelists have associated fire with almost only retribution and judgment. Recently on a trip to San Francisco, I heard it on a street corner. Hell. Damnation. A one-sided, lop-sided view of God. We must also realize that love has a fire to it. It burns us. It often places a desire within us to change–it stirs a holy discontentment up within us so that we no longer find what we once did enjoyable.

We find  in this very same gospel, John the Baptist (3:16-17) saying, “I baptize you with water but the one coming after me will baptize you with fire.” John is getting that from the prophet Malachi who says that the Messiah will come and will give a fire like a refiner’s fire. The Messiah is after our heart, our desires.

As you know, when the worker is smelting silver, they put the silver in very high heat and that causes the impurities to rise to the surface. The refiner skims the surface, and removes the impurities, and the silver is of more value. The refiner doesn’t skim it once. The heat continues to roil the silver and more and more impurities are removed.

So, in Malachi and John’s minds, the Messiah is going to put the heat on us. His teaching is going to bring about friction and cause a disturbance within us. It’s going to cause us to notice impurities that need to be removed so that we can become our clearer selves.

Think of extreme athletes. They put themselves through the rigors of training to improve. They prioritize activities that enhance their work. They seek progression and you will hear their coach say, “She has a competitive fire within her.”

We know it to be true–fire can be good. It can also be scary.

A Higher Love

The writers Moses, Moses, John the baptizer, and Jesus himself speak of God’s presence as either the fire of judgment, purification, or unrelenting love. How is it all true?

I think of the life of the Trinity. In John 17, Jesus prays, “Father, you have loved me since before the creation of all things.” Before the big bang, before the earth was formed and before Saturn got those rings, God has always been a Father seeing, appreciating, and loving the Son, and a Son receiving that love and appreciation and then returning that love and appreciation back to the Father. And out of that endless cycle of other-oriented love (unselfish), is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”

You are invited into that relationship. Do you think you can enter that eternal outflow of love and truth-telling and keep your hate? And keep your selfish tendencies? And keep your embarrassing secrets? And your gossip? Fear? Distrust?

You see, if you enter that relationship in which all truth is known and spoken, you will be put in a situation where you become aware of all that is in you that is contradictory to that love and appreciation and truth–the very things you want! That love, that eternal overflow of love and truth-telling may feel to you like unbearable judgment – an unquenchable but purifying love that will cause you to willingly change. The fire is a desire that changes you.

When someone comes to you and tells you that they have gotten themselves into a situation that they can’t get out of, that they have messed up, and that they are scared because they can’t find the way out, when they sit there with you with a trembling hand, with a quaking voice, and high anxiety, and are judging themselves and saying, “I was wrong. I made some mistakes. At first, it was one mistake that I didn’t know would lead to this one and then this one and I’m telling you this because I want it to change.” They are saying, I see the shark! I don’t want this. It’s consuming too much of me. I want to be back where it is safe.

And when you sit with them and love them, and speak truth (you are right and I’m so happy you told me and I’m going to stay with you and we will do this together), your love is a judgment. You are becoming to them purifying love, fierce grace, unrelenting relationship, Divine Love.

Jesus says, “I’ve come to bring fire.”

Jesus Was Burned With and By Love

Jesus says, “I have a baptism to undergo.” He is talking about his suffering and death. He will be dipped into the waters of suffering and death and will come out again in three days. He will give himself to love and that love will consume him.

As we contemplate his love for us, are we not touched by such truth? That he would stand straight up and tell us where the sharks are? That he would warn us of razor-thin religion and empty prayers and power-hungry God-users? He would warn us of greed and jealousy and the danger of letting the little slight grow to become a great white.

Jesus’ teachings disturb us.

Do you think I’ve come to bring peace? No! Peace, just letting things be is not going to cut it. Look at the world! Do you think it should be left alone? Heavens no. There are sharks everywhere.

Sharks are around us! Sharks are within us. Will we get out of the water?

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